The computer screen was illuminating my face as I watched the same documentary for the 3rd time in my dark apartment in Phoenix while snacking on cucumbers and salsa. Why was I sitting there in the dark? Why was I watching the same movie for the 3rd time? And why in the hell was I eating cucumbers and salsa? Allow me to explain.
The documentary is called I Am.
The writer and director of the film, Tom Shadyac, is a billionaire. He made ridiculous money when he took a chance on a ‘nobody’ actor on In Living Color named, Jim Carrey. He chose him to star in one of his early movies, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. The documentary has very little to do with being rich or how to get rich. In one of the opening scenes of the film, he details a moment in his life when he had just bought a new mansion. He stood in the entryway looking around at all his wealth and then it hit him. Despite all of the things surrounding him, he was no happier than he was the day before or even years before when he himself was a starving artist. So, he set out on a quest to learn about happiness. Among other things, he talks about a certain threshold at which money no longer makes you happy. Once you have a roof over your head and food to eat, the amount of additional money it takes to make you happy is almost nothing. Currently, the number is at $70,000 per year (USD). To some of you interns out there reading this might be thinking that sounds like a million bucks, but relatively speaking, that’s not a whole lot when you think of the wealth we have in this country.
As I sat there watching the film for the 3rd time, I remember thinking that he was right. I had everything I needed.
The timing of this blog is deliberate. This is a big month for me. I did the math – and this is the month that I have FINALLY surpassed the amount of months worked with no pay (or small monthly stipend) with the amount of months worked on salary. I worked for free for 31 months before earning a ‘full time’ position. You’re saying to yourself, “how on earth did she eat?” Here’s how: the first time in my adult life in which I did not have to hold down 2 jobs to support myself was at the age of 26.5 when I was hired by the Cardinals. When I was a college athlete, I waitressed and worked as a barista to make up the deficit in my scholarship. When I was a graduate assistant at LSU, I was doing personal training and working camps to earn extra money. When I interned for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012, I worked remotely for Marucci Bats answering customer service emails to make ends meet. While I was interning at Arizona State (for the second time mind you) I was working as a waitress and at Lululemon (the discount is no joke!).
One of the most common questions I get about my career is how did you get to do what you are doing now? How did you stay so committed to your goal? The answer is simple. I wanted the end results more than I did my weekends. Allow me to break it down by my stages of broke-ness:
2010: Diaper Broke
I was biding my time before leaving to Baton Rouge to do a graduate assistantship at LSU. I had 8 months to make as much money as I could before having to live for a year and a half on $1100 a month. Naturally, I got 3 jobs. I was 22. I could have easily done what many other 22-year-old’s do. Party! Instead, I did personal training Monday through Friday and rotated weekend jobs. One weekend I would waitress at St. Claire’s Winery and the other weekend, I would go to the home of an elderly couple to care for them. In layman’s terms, that means I was feeding them meals and changing their diapers. Yes, I was literally changing their diapers.
To the Naked Eye: I had a college degree and had worked as an intern at a world-renowned private facility for training professional athletes and I was changing diapers of an elderly couple.
Monthly Income: Approximately $2,000.00 a month combined between my 3 jobs.
My Real Salary: Life-changing interactions with an elderly couple that had achieved massive financial success only to be reduced to some 22 year old changing their soiled diapers. Their huge house in the hills in Albuquerque, massive one of a kind art collection and vintage cars couldn’t provide them happiness any longer. The woman had once been a very talented artist and competition pianist, but her hands were now riddled with arthritis. The things that had once made them happy were no longer things. Now, they had to rely on their memories, legacies and companionship for enjoyment. Something I have learned that I have to do now. You won’t find expensive things in my apartment and I will never drive an expensive car. As I write this, I’m wearing shoes from Marshall’s and an outfit that cost about $50.00 total mostly comprised of forever 21 and outlet finds. I'm currently traveling the world for 3 months with 3 suitcases and I can't really even remember most things that I left at home. Things are useless to me and that couple taught me an important lesson about what is really important.
2012: 4:00am Broke
My alarm went off at 4:00am every morning for work. But not my real work – my second job. I didn’t have to leave to work for the St. Louis Cardinals until 6:30, but I needed to wake up early to do my second job before I got to the field. I was completing a part time internship as a rookie league strength coach for the St. Louis Cardinals and I had been bumped up to making a whopping $1,400 per month. So, there I was, waking up every morning at 4:00 to do my second job: answering customer service emails for Marucci Bats. Angry moms were writing me, a strength coach in professional baseball, to tell me about how the grip on their son’s bat had started to slightly come unraveled after a few months of use (insert eye roll here). Little did they know whom they were writing to on the other end. Funny enough, during that season, one of my own players’ moms wrote me to ask where she could purchase more bats. I promptly went to the field that day and told my 19-year-old high school draft to stop making his mom buy his bats.
To the Naked Eye: I had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and had worked at one of the most prestigious athletic departments in the country on top of working at Athletes’ Performance prior to that and I was emailing back and forth with angry soccer moms (or baseball moms in this case) at 4:00am before I went to the park to work my 12-hour day as a professional baseball strength and conditioning coach.
Monthly Income: Approximately $1600.00 per month combined with my two jobs
My Real Salary: As an intern for the Cardinals, I was earning respect and laying a foundation for what would eventually earn me a spot in the history books as the first woman to be hired as a strength and conditioning coordinator in professional baseball. I should have been paying them.
2013: Vegetarian Broke
In the beginning of 2013 I had left baseball to pursue a PhD at Arizona State University in Phoenix. Upon moving there, I applied for 8 rookie league jobs in professional baseball, all of which were based in the Phoenix area. Despite my aforementioned pretty damn good resume for a young coach, I only received one call and it didn’t work out because, well, I just wasn’t man enough to do the job. But that’s another story. In absence of a job in my field, I picked up my old forte: waitressing. I had spent 6 years in college and 4 years as a strength coach at this point and I was picking up dirty dishes and serving up hot food to the rich and famous in Phoenix’s upscale area, Biltmore. In June of that year, I decided the PhD in nutrition wasn’t for me and that I missed coaching already. In true form, I picked up a second job and then a third. I went to Arizona State University athletics weight room and asked to volunteer. Later in the year, the White Sox coordinator based in Phoenix called and asked if I wanted to be their Arizona Fall League strength and conditioning coach for a whopping $30.00 per day when the team was at home. I had limited time as it was to work for a job that was actually paying me and the White Sox gig was a 45-minute drive one way. If you do the math, the $30.00 per day added up to about $150.00 per week before taxes, which was barely enough to pay my gas. During this time, I became a vegetarian to save money. My diet consisted of some or all of the following:
Walmart value pack of eggs (60 for $8.00)
Homemade dressing from canola oil and vinegar
Salsa (The value Picante kind)
To the Naked Eye: I had a master’s degree, had interned for 2 different professional baseball organizations, had interned for Arizona State University two different times, worked at LSU and Athletes’ Performance and now, I couldn’t even afford chicken breasts to eat.
Monthly Income: Approximately $1,000.00
Phoenix was the poorest I’ve ever been. In the opening paragraph, I described a regular evening in my home. I unplugged all the appliances and lamps to make sure they weren’t taking any extra power just by being plugged in. My lights were almost always off. Even when it started to get chilly out in December, I kept the heat off. I used my computer for entertainment, connection to the world and lighting at times.
My Real Salary: I learned a very important lesson in perseverance. In relative terms, I was a pretty gritty person before that year, but Phoenix tested me more than I had been previously. If there was any doubt about what I wanted to do in my career, this solidified it. I had no less than 8 different division I colleges reach out to me about a position and I didn’t even flinch at them. After I had been held out of it, I knew exactly where I wanted to be. My salary this year was elevated conviction, discipline and an unwavering belief in myself to accomplish my goals. Invaluable.
The reason behind detailing my ‘broke’ story is to say this. As I reflect, the years before I was hired full time for the Cardinals were just as happy, if not happier than the years that have followed. I’m not unhappy now, but I will say that the friends, memories and lessons that I have acquired as an intern and graduate assistant have provided me with more payment than I could ever ask for. As I start to hear from more and more young people who want to get into the field, I often steer them away from taking salaried positions just to get medical benefits. This is a hard concept to grasp when you have tasted the broke life as I have, but I can confidently say that it has paid off ten fold – and not just in a monetary sense. When I think about all of the wonderful people I met, athletes I worked with and experiences that I had while traveling the country to work and go to school, I would never take it back.
For all of you broke interns, students and young professionals out there, I am starting a service for building your professional materials called: The Virtual Handshake Academy. Check us out on Instagram: @virtualhandshakeacademy for tips and videos to kick starting your career through mastering your professional materials. In other words: Up your resume game and more.
Here is a complete list of my work experiences in chronological order:
(Age-Months Spent at this Job)
Non-Strength and Conditioning
Famous Footwear (14-3)
Westwood Cinema (15-24)
Crane Coffee (17-24)
St. Claire’s Winery and Bistro (19-24)
Macaroni Grill (20-5)
Southwest Sports and Wellness (20-8)
In Home Healthcare (20-6)
Pampered Chef (23-6)
Marucci Sports (24-25-8)
Hillstone Restaurant (25-6)
Lulu Lemon (26-6)
Strength and Conditioning:
Athletes’ Performance (EXOS) (22-3)
Arizona State University (22 & 26-5)
Louisiana State University GA (22-23-18)
Los Tigres Del Licey (25-3)
Chicago White Sox (26-3)
St. Louis Cardinals (25 & 26-28-21)
Houston Astros (28-29-12)